Friday, October 23, 2009

Full circle: Chitenango returns home to the wild

What a great day.  A group of about 10 of us from Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network (WMMSN) traveled to Friday Harbor to see the culmination of care and release of Chitenango and 2 other seal pups that had been cared for by Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation on San Juan Island.  

After 2 ferry trips, we arrived at Friday Harbor with some time to spare before the release so I had a chance to wander this cute little town.  I found a neat little shop full of saucy soveniers, the San Juan Hot Shop Flavor Emporium .  I had a great experience speaking with Eddie, one of the shop owners, about some of their delicious and spicy selections and life on the island.  What a nice guy!

I love the sinage here all painted placards as you walk down this street.
Fantastic selection!  And every sauce is chosen for it's flavor.  
The motto here is "spice is nice, but it's gotta have flavor!"
Eddie has tasted every one of these saucy treats!

After a little bit of shopping and sight seeing, we convened at the Churchhill Coffee House and grabbed a light lunch while waiting for the members of Wolf Hollow to show us to the release site.

Once we arrived at the location, Shona gave us a quick briefing on the process of releasing Chitenango, Lotus and Dragonfly, the 3 seals that were scheduled for today.  The site was a small inlet that was close to an outcropping where seals often haul out of the water.  The idea is to release them in a place where they can easily  reconnect with other wild seals.

We were directed to a nice location for the viewing. There was quite a crowd of observers including a reporter from the San Juan Journal who was covering the release for the local paper.  Chitenango, as you have heard, was found on Village Point on Lummi Island.  The other 2 pups, Lotus and Dragonfly were both found on San Juan Island.  Dragonfly was a bit of a local celebrity having been found on the beach near Downriggers Restaurant.  Here's a link to the article about when she was found.
Some of our group from WMMSN and other observers

The release was very quick and smooth.  The staff from Wolf Hollow brought the pups to the beach in covered carriers.  Simultaneously all 3 were uncovered and the doors opened at the waters edge.  One of the pups came out of it's carrier into the water like a flash and quickly swam out into the bay.  The other 2 pups took a minute to contemplate the situation before splashing into the water.  Then once in the water, all three stayed close to the shore for sometime and seemed to take comfort in the presence of eachother, but after about 10 minutes of acclimating to their new environment they too headed out into the bay.

It was fantastic to see this story come full circle!  Thanks to the folks at Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehab, these little creatures got a second chance at a healthy life!

The staff opens the carriers and the pups get their first view of the inlet

Chitenango was the last of the 3 to hit the water 

 Lotis, Dragonfly and Chitenago enjoying their new found freedom!

With a last goodbye, these pups went out into the Puget Soundto live out their natural lives

After the release, we were invited up to the facility to learn a bit more about how Wolf Hollow is helping marine mammals and other wildlife in need of rehabilitation.  This was quite a special treat because their facility is not open to the public. 

Our main interest was  the marine mammal area where we learned the process for caring for the seal pups Each pup is first placed in an isolation tub and they are evaluated for injuries.  Blood work is done to check the general health of the pups.  Each rescue is different according to the needs of the animal, and can include formula feedings, medication, wound cleaning and care.  Human contact is limited to an as needed basis in order to maintain the wildness of these creatures.
Here's one of the rehab pools.  These 2 pups are waiting for their
clean bill of health and then will be released too

As the pups begin to recover from their distress they move from eating formula to fish.  They are hand fed to begin with, but the ultimate goal is for these pups to be able to fend for themselves in the wild.  They are soon "fishing" their own food from the bottom of their tubs. Once the pups are healthy enough, they are exposed to a larger tank where they can be together with other seals and swim and dive.  Each pup is individually evaluated by the care staff, and when they have gained sufficient weight, are able to feed themselves and have a clean bill of health, they are ready for release!

We then toured the rest of the facility.  Wolf Hollow is a 40 acre facility and they care for all kinds of wildlife including eagles, hawks, squirrels, deer, otters, racoons, and foxes.  What a fantastic place and a phenominal staff of dedicated people!

Some of the pens used for small species

Our wonderful hosts: Shona, Vanessa & Penny

After our lovely tour, we returned to Friday Harbor.  We had a couple more hours to tour about the town.   I really wanted to get a feel for this island community so I stopped in at Herbs Tavern to rub elbows with the locals.  The highlight of my time in the city of Friday Harbor was being mistaken for a local at the bar where a couple of visitors asked me for directions.  I guess I must radiate "islander" or it could be my lucky camo cap.  Either way I felt it was a true compliment!

Local humor on the ceiling at Herb's Tavern

With happy hearts we reboarded the Elwa, and started our
long journey home.  What a fantastic day!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful photos your experience!
    - Leslie Dempsey


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